International
Federation for
Housing and
Planning

Is your experience of public transport integrated or is it rather dis-integrated?

This guest blog from Graham Allan, IFHP Council Representative for UK, is about public tranbsport and ticketing systems.

I travel quite a lot by public transport and like many when I make a journey I simply wish to get from one place to another efficiently and seamlessly. I’m not really bothered who might run the bus or the train, or about having to change vehicles but I am if everything seems inefficient or rather too complicated.

 

Now for the individual traveller - the beloved customer whom the transport operators fall over themselves to serve - this simple wish to be carried efficiently from ‘a’ to ‘b’ can become entwined in a whole range of competitive, protective, managerial or rulebook issues. These in turn may create anything but the desired result of satisfying this simple wish to travel and arrive in one calm piece.

 

In Switzerland where, interestingly, car usage is reputed to be going down in favour of using public transport, there’s quite a benchmark in transport integration. Besides the individual Cantons, the whole country is divided into zones in which the individual destinations and locations of town and country stopping points can be discovered. So if you arrive at your local bus stop with your credit card and good precise knowledge about where you are going you can buy a through ticket (three language options) to nearly any other place in the country.

 

The ticket takes a little while to emerge, by which time you might feel under some pressure from others wishing to get tickets from the same machine. That aside though, with just one ticket you can move quite seamlessly through the various modes of transport for your journey. Rather magically the train will be there waiting for the bus and the bus maybe at the other end waiting nearby to whisk you to your final destination. It’s as if they really want you to travel with them and whilst in transit you’ll have good information about where you are. Often there will be ‘easy access’ facilities throughout the journey.

 

I suspect Switzerland is not alone in providing this kind of basic integration and maybe I’ve painted an overly rosy picture here, but compare this with some of your experiences in travelling. Sometimes more than one ticket is needed for a single ride. The competitive hourly train or bus is timed to leave a place just 2 minutes before another arrives. A bus ticket can’t be used on an alternative train or tram going to the same place. If you get on a bus or train at the wrong time or even one of the ‘wrong’ company’s you’ll be surcharged. That’s all before the inevitable delays, cancellations and profuse tannoyed apologies!

 

Maybe it’s only a little issue but I do recall a situation several years ago on Tyneside in the UK when a transport professional is reputed to have spent several years designing a fully integrated ticketing system across the metropolitan area in readiness for the introduction of the Tyneside Metro. The system turned out to be well liked and was very successful but after only a few years dogma required the same person to dis-integrate the system.

 

I suppose what I really want to do is to key in the start and end points of my journey and print out my integrated ticket at home – and, of course, to feel that everyone really wants me to travel in relaxed comfort on their vehicle. I wonder if that’s coming!
 

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